There’s nothing like a family vacation to one of America’s beautiful parks! From immersing yourself in scenic beauty, to engaging in adventurous activities, national parks offer a plethora of opportunities for a little outdoor fun and relaxation. Out of the National Park System’s 417 parks, 60 of them are designated as national parks. Here is a list of the 10 most popular (by annual visits) national parks in America and what each has to offer.
10. Glacier National Park
Location: West Glacier, Montana
Number of visitors in 2017: 3,305,512
Not only is Glacier a national park, it’s also recognized as a world biosphere reserve and World Heritage site. Glacier is also part of an international peace park via a partnership with Waterton Lakes (Canada) National Park. Many people visit Waterton-Glacier to see its turquoise glacial lakes. Popular activities at Glacier include boating, fishing, and skipping stones.
-Because Glacier straddles the Continental Divide, the weather there can be quite unpredictable. Once, temperatures there dropped 100 degrees in a 24-hour period! Make sure you pack clothing suitable for all types of weather.
-According to the U.S. National Park Service’s website, campground restrictions are currently in effect due to grizzly bear activity. Campers with reservations will be relocated to an alternate campsite.
9. Grand Teton National Park
Location: Teton County, Wyoming
Number of visitors in 2017: 3,317,000
Grand Teton National Park was formed in 1929 in order to protect the area’s lakes and mountains from commercial exploitation. In 1950, the protected area was extended to include the surrounding valley. The park consists of 310,000 acres filled with summertime wildflower meadows, dense forests, whitewater streams, deep blue lakes, and ancient mountains dating back to over 2 billion years. Park visitors can engage in many outdoor activities, including hiking, climbing, boating, fishing, biking, and viewing wildlife such as bears, bison, eagles, wolves, coyotes, and some species of fauna and flora that date back to prehistoric times. Areas of the park close for the winter and Christmas.
FUN FACT: You can download the free NPS Grand Teton app to discover the best places to visit, eat, and stay. The app is available on the App Store and Google Play.
8. Olympic National Park
Location: Port Angeles, Washington
Number of visitors in 2017: 3,401,996
Olympic National Park is located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest. The park encompasses nearly 1,000,000 acres and 70 miles of wild coastline. Impressive sights include glacier-capped mountains, temperate rain forests, and broad sandy beaches. Olympic is open year round. Summer is Washington’s dry season, however, you can expect rain, fog and cool temperatures at any time.
Things To Do:
FUN FACT: Due to the park’s scenic beauty and pristine condition, the United Nations declared it a World Heritage site and an international biosphere.
7. Acadia National Park
Location: Bar Harbor, Maine
Number of visitors in 2017: 3,509,271
Located primarily on Mount Desert Island, the landscape of Acadia National Park‘s 47,000 acres is marked by hiking trails, rocky beaches, carriage roads, stone bridges, woodland, granite peaks, clean air and water, and wildlife such as bears, whales, seabirds and moose. Some trails (Precipice, Valley Cove, Jordan Cliffs, and a portion of the Orange & Black Path) are temporarily closed during peregrine falcon nesting season.
Things To Do:
FUN FACT: Acadia National Park is home to Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the East Coast. Cadillac Mountain has an elevation of 1,530 feet (466 meters).
6. Yellowstone National Park
Location: Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana
Number of visitors in 2017: 4,116,524
Dramatic canyons, gushing geysers, and colorful hot springs, oh my! That’s just some of the impressive sights you’ll come across at Yellowstone National Park. The 3,500-square-mile recreation area is also home to hundreds of animal species, including wild, migratory bison. The Yellowstone herd is the nation’s most important bison herd because it’s one of the few that has not been hybridized through interbreeding with cattle. The wild behavior they exhibit, which is similar to the behavior of their ancient ancestors, has saved them from extinction.
-Yellowstone is the world’s first national park.
-Yellowstone sits atop a volcanic hot spot. Every few years, fears of a Yellowstone volcanic blast resurface. The last massive blast was 640,000 years ago.
-Old Faithful, the most famous geyser, is located in Yellowstone.
-Yellowstone is the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times.
5. Yosemite National Park
Location: California’s Sierra Nevada mountains
Number of visitors in 2017: 4,366,890
Yosemite National Park is known for its waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, and its numerous viewpoints, including Tunnel View–one of the most famous views of Yosemite Valley. Nearly 1,200 square miles, Yosemite National Park also boasts meadows, deep valleys, and a vast wilderness area.
Things To Do:
-Camping is very popular in Yosemite.
-Hiking: There over 750 miles of trails to explore.
-Biking: Rent a bike or bring your own.
-Horseback Riding: Join a guided ride or bring your own horse.
-Birdwatching: There are over 165 species of migrating, wintering, and breeding birds.
-Stargazing: Yosemite National Park, miles from the nearest city lights, has a very dark night sky that makes it a great place to look at the stars.
FUN FACT: Nearly 95 percent of Yosemite National Park is designated Wilderness.
4. Rocky Mountain National Park
Location: Estes Park, Colorado
Number of visitors in 2017: 4,437,215
If you’re into hiking, Rocky Mountain National Park is the place to go. The park has 355 miles of hiking trails and 77 mountains taller than 12,000 feet, including 14,259-foot Longs Peak. FYI, you can check out trail conditions any time on the U.S. National Park Service website. Trail condition reports are submitted by park staff, volunteers, and visitors. Since conditions in the mountains can change quickly, it’s best to use these reports as guidelines only.
-Sub-alpine wildflowers bloom in May
-Fall foliage in September
-Wildlife such as elk, bighorn sheep, and moose
FUN FACT: In 2014, Rocky Mountain National Park made the National Geographic “Best Trips” list.
3. Zion National Park
Location: Springdale, Utah
Number of visitors in 2017: 4,504,812
Towering cliffs, deep chasms, forest trails, waterfalls, a river, a hanging garden, and ancient paths pioneers once walked is just a little of what Utah’s first national park has to offer. Places of interest include archeological sites that provide important clues to the past, and Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel, a scenic route of a series of national parks in southern Utah linked to the Grand Canyon. Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was designated as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in May 2012.
Hiking is just one of the many things you can do at Zion National Park. There are a wide array of trails with varying levels of difficulty. For example, short hikes take anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes to complete. Moderate hikes usually have an increased distance and a slight gain in elevation, and take 1 or 2+ hours to complete. Strenuous hikes have steep stretches and long distances, and can take 2+ hours, a half-day, or overnight to complete.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
Location: Grand Canyon, Arizona
Number of visitors in 2017: 6,254,238
The Grand Canyon is a 277-river-mile long, 18-mile wide, 1-mile deep chasm of layered bands of red rock that reveal millions of years of geological history. The canyon has two distinct sides: the North Rim and the South Rim. While the North Rim is open seasonally, the South Rim is open 24/7, 365.
About the North Rim:
-The North Rim is hard to get to and is wild and secluded.
-North Rim facilities and lodging are open May 15 through October 15, each year.
-Lodging and camping reservations are strongly recommended.
-The North Rim is over 8,000 feet in elevation. BEWARE: Walking at this elevation can be strenuous. Visitors with respiratory or heart problems may experience difficulties.
About the South Rim:
-Camping, lodging, and food are available year round.
-Reservations are strongly recommended during spring, summer and fall.
-Because the South Rim is easier to get to, day-use visitors should expect traffic congestion and parking problems, particularly in the summer.
-The least crowded time is November through February.
-The South Rim averages 7,000 feet above sea level. BEWARE: Walking at this elevation can be strenuous. Visitors with respiratory or heart problems may experience difficulties.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
Because the Grand Canyon is in a remote part of the country, make sure you bring an extra set of car keys since it could be a long wait for a locksmith. Also, gas stations are quite a distance down the road, so make sure to keep a full tank of gas. Lastly, carry drinking water in your car, especially during the summer months.
FUN FACT: The average distance across the canyon is only 10 miles, but it takes 5 hours to drive the 215 miles between the park’s North Rim Village and the South Rim Village.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: the border between North Carolina and Tennessee
Number of visitors in 2017: 11,388,893
This is America’s most visited national park. It’s known worldwide for its beautiful mountains, remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, and diverse plant and animal life. The most popular destination in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Cades Cove. It offers some of the best opportunities to view wildlife in the park. White-tailed deer are frequently seen. Sightings of black bears, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, groundhogs, turkeys, and other animals are possible as well.
An 11-mile, one-way loop road circles the cove, giving motorists the chance to go sightseeing at their own pace. The loop road is limited to bicycle and foot traffic until 10:00 a.m. Saturday and Wednesday mornings from early May until late September.
OTHER THINGS TO DO:
-Explore historic grist mills
-Camp under the stars
-Enjoy the park’s natural beauty (waterfalls, forests, and blooming flowers such as hepaticas and asters)
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